George Robertson, CFP, CRPS, AIF

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Bringing Mom Back on the Job after Having a Baby

Losing experienced, hardworking employees can be costly for your business. So when one of your valued employees announces she is pregnant, do more than just congratulate her; think about ways to encourage her to return to work once the baby is born. While it may be necessary to allow for some adjustments to her work environment and schedule, your organization will benefit by retaining a proven contributor.

Some employees who become pregnant make a firm decision that they will stay home with their child for an indefinite period of time after giving birth, and they will hand in their notices. But studies indicate that many mothers of young children want to remain active in the workforce: According to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey, 66% of women with children ages 17 or younger work either full or part time. Among those working mothers, most (74%) work full time while 26% work part time. When women fail to return to their jobs after having children, it is often because they do not receive the necessary support from their employers in juggling their roles as parents and employees.

Developing a strategy for meeting the needs of the parents on your staff not only raises the odds that an expectant employee will return to work after giving birth - it also improves the likelihood that the employee will remain a loyal and productive part of your team. Begin by familiarizing yourself with your basic obligations as an employer under federal, state, and municipal laws. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, companies with 15 or more employees are required to treat employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions in the same manner as other workers with temporary disabilities. It may be necessary to adjust the employee's work duties or grant a pregnant employee time off for doctors' appointments.

Companies with 50 or more employees are subject to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which mandates up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for medical reasons or maternity leave. Even if the FMLA does not apply to your company, you may wish to offer paid or unpaid parental leave to employees. By allowing her to combine sick days, vacation days, and even a brief paid maternity leave, a new mother may be able to piece together the time she needs to recover and care for her baby without forfeiting pay.

Remember, too, that new fathers may wish to take time off when a child is born or work a more flexible schedule after becoming a dad. Depending upon their size, employers may also have a legal obligation to provide the same amount of leave to new fathers as they do to new mothers. Before extending benefits to expectant or new mothers, check to see whether failing to provide the same benefits to new fathers would constitute discrimination.

While it is not always possible for an expectant employee to predict what changes to her current working arrangements she might prefer after the baby arrives, it is useful to set up a preliminary plan for her return before she heads for the hospital. If the position allows it, you may wish to offer the employee the option of reducing her hours, adopting a flexible schedule, job-sharing, or telecommuting. After actually returning to work, a new mother may find she needs more or less flexibility than she originally anticipated and may want to revisit these arrangements.

Most companies are not large enough to offer on-site daycare, but you may want to consider signing up with a backup care provider that specializes in assisting parents in finding emergency care for their children when their normal arrangements fail or a child is sick. If a woman intends to nurse her baby, she may wish to take breaks to express milk. If possible, provide her with a private office or room where she can pump without being disturbed and a sanitary refrigerator where she can safely store the milk.

Making the adjustments necessary to allow a new mother to return to her job may cause some short-term disruptions and inconveniences for the employer. But sometimes even a temporary change in work schedule or location can ease the transition back to work for a new mother - or even tip the scales in her decision about whether to stay on the job. Over time, providing a supportive environment for employees through all their life stages will likely reward you with a dedicated and motivated workforce.

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